Everywhere I go in this town I am exhorted by t-shirts, bumper stickers, and alternative newspapers to “Keep Austin Weird.” At first, I found this clever – the original aim of Keep Austin Weird was apparently a drive to promote local businesses and fend off the encroachment of big-box sameness – not unlike Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s (may it rest in peace) Save Our City campaign, but more durable and less product-driven. I thought this was pretty okay, until it began to dawn on me that Keep Austin Weird doesn’t really have anything to do with preserving the personality of the city. For the populace, it is just an excuse for those people who don’t feel obligated to behave like functional members of society. You know, those annoying lovable, useless happy-go-lucky losers featured in Richard Linklater’s opus Slacker, a chunk of charming Austin-oriented media that made me instantly want to put on slingbacks with a little heel and get an MBA. These people live in my neighborhood, drinking (smoking?) all morning, hanging kooky things in their yards, and letting their unleashed pit bulls chase my little appetizer-sized dog and me up the street before yelling at me for dropping papers raping the earth as I scoop him up to protect him with my body (oh yeah, they’re also self-righteous and patronizing).
The joke’s on the slackers, though, because while they’re living their weirdness, the corporate enemy is using Keep Austin Weird as a front for the most outrageous unchecked soulless growth I’ve ever seen. Only in Austin would a university be demolished to make room for another mixed-use high rise condo and retail complex. If all the other development in town is any indication, this new complex will be designed to look older and/or more urban than it really is and be full of $300K efficiencies for the West Coast crowd that wants to move here to feel creative and hip. And to just heap the irony on a little deeper, “Keep Austin Weird” has been trademarked. You know, so the corporation can make money from it. Oo, weird.
Am I home yet?